Resources

Other Services For Children

RGDT can refer your child to the following services, where appropriate. This list is a starting guide only, not a comprehensive list of all services. Some are specifically for children with impaired vision and others are for general with any disability. Some organisations hold conferences which may be of interest to parents.

Vision Impairment Service, Department of Education

Services are available to any child aged 0-5 years or any school age child attending a State school in Tasmania.

Contact: Co-ordinator Marg Griffin
Phone: 03 6212 3535

Early Childhood Intervention Service, Department of Education

For children aged 0-4 years with special or additional needs.

Children may have a significant developmental delay or disability, for example: physical, intellectual, communication, play, sensory, social, emotional or behavioural. There are Early Learning Tasmania centres in Burnie, Devonport, Hobart and Launceston.

Contact the State Coordinator, Ph: 6234 8238

Catholic Education Tasmania, Vision Specialist

Support children who are blind or vision impaired attending Catholic schools in Tasmania.
Contact:
Phone:

Feelix Braille Book Library, Vision Australia

For children aged 0-6 years. Braille story books that come in a kit with an audio CD and tactual aids to help children relate to the story.

Feelix Project Coordinator: Louise Curtin
Phone: 03 9864 9546
Email: louise.curtin@visionaustralia.org

Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children

Assessment Unit:

RIDBC Assessment Unit at North Rocks offers comprehensive educational assessments for children from 0-18 years who have a significant hearing and/or vision impairment, including those who have additional disabilities. The assessments are conducted by a team of specialists including an audiologist, orthoptist, paediatrician, speech pathologist, psychologist, occupational therapist, and physiotherapist. Onsite accommodation is available to families from regional and rural areas if required.

For further information, contact the Coordinator on (02) 9872 0753.

Teleschool

RIDBC Teleschool provides a high-quality service to families living in rural and regional areas of Australia who have a child diagnosed with hearing and/or vision loss. The service is available for families from the time their baby or toddler is diagnosed with a hearing or vision loss, until school entry age. Services are also provided to school-age children with a hearing impairment and/or vision impairment.

To find out more, contact RIDBC on 1300 131 923

Blind Citizens Australia

Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) is a national organisation that aims to be the united voice of blind and vision-impaired Australians. Their mission is to achieve equity and equality by empowerment, by promoting positive community attitudes, and by striving for high quality and accessible services which meet the needs of people with impaired vision.

‘Parent News’ is BCA’s quarterly newsletter.

South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment (SPEVI) Inc

SPEVI acts as the professional body in matters pertaining to the education and support of children and young people who are blind or have low vision within the South Pacific region. This includes children and young people who are deaf-blind and those with vision and additional disabilities.

Membership is open to parents as well as professionals working with children.

St Giles

St Giles provides a range of professional and personal support services. They provide families with reassurance, information, specialist advice and support. Therapy services include: Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy and Speech Pathology (0-5 yrs). Family Support Services include: Social Work, Family Support and Psychology (0-5 yrs).

Services are available to children at either the Launceston or Hobart centres. They also provide centre based and in-home respite, after school and school holiday programs.

Phone
Launceston: 6344 2451
Hobart: 6238 1801

Association for Children with Disability

ACD is a state-wide organisation that provides information, advocacy, case management and support for Tasmanian families of children with disability. ACD provides individual support as well as parent/carer groups, referrals, newsletters, a resource library (Hobart), workshops and forums.

Phone: 1800 244 742

Other Useful References

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Family Connect – for parents of children with visual impairments

Links to Research

Centre for Eye Research, Australia
CERA is affiliated with the University of Melbourne.

Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia

Useful Websites

Other blindness agencies in Australia:

Eye Conditions:

Vision related organisations:

Assistive Technology:

Children:

Teacher / student resources & activity sheets:

University or Polytechnic students

Students studying courses such as Disability Services, Aged Care or Social Work may require information about the range of services available to people who are blind or vision impaired. Information may also be required about types of vision loss, how to assist a vision impaired person or how to refer them for services.

Please refer to the information about RGDT Services:

  • Orientation and Mobility,
  • Independent Living Skills,
  • Guide Dogs,
  • Low Vision Clinics,
  • Assistive Technology.

Refer also to: Blindfold / Sighted Guide Experiential Exercise

Possible Project Topics:

Blindness & vision impairment – types of eye conditions
Guide dogs – see RGDT services: Guide Dog Services and FAQs about Guide Dogs
Services for blind /VI people – see RGDT services: Orientation and Mobility, Independent Living Skills, Guide Dog services, Low Vision Clinic, Assistive Technology
Sighted guide – link with GDNSW video

Primary school student activities:

Go to different areas of school sit with eyes closed/blindfolded and listen to all the noises you can hear and the take note of the different smells.

Write a list of all the sounds and smells.

Have a discussion about how you could use your senses (other than sight) to find locations around the school or community.

Do a community walk to find things that help people who are vision impaired: Braille on signs, audio-tactile signals at traffic lights, tactile ground surface indicators at road crossings, steps or bus stops.

Learn the Braille alphabet

Research Louis Braille & the history of Braille, Helen Keller, Deaf-Blind sign language.

Learn how to provide sighted guide assistance to a person with impaired vision (www.guidedogs.com.au/education-and-resources/helping-people-with-impaired-vision/how-to-guide-a-person)

Make a tactile map of the classroom or school using everyday items stuck to cardboard to indicate walls, furniture etc…

High school student activities:

Research the Paralympics, the World Blind Games, goal ball or athletes who are blind.

There are many interesting videos of blind athletes and sports on YouTube.

See also:

Research occupations of people who specialize in vision and/or vision impairment such as:

  • Orientation and Mobility Instructor,
  • Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, Orthoptist or
  • Vision Resource Teacher.

Find out what qualifications are required for each profession, where courses may be undertaken, where each type of professional may be employed.

Research Louis Braille & the history of Braille, Helen Keller, or Deaf-Blind sign language.

Learn how to provide sighted guide assistance to a person with impaired vision (www.guidedogs.com.au/education-and-resources/helping-people-with-impaired-vision/how-to-guide-a-person) and practice in pairs around the school campus.

Find out about adaptive technology for people with impaired vision:

Activity: Blindfold / Sighted Guide Experiential Exercise

Vision loss affects a person’s ability to perform daily activities such as walking, preparing meals or using a computer. However, specialist services are available to provide information, training and support to enable the person to be independent. People who are vision impaired may perform some activities differently (eg: tell the time with a talking watch or use a white cane for mobility) but they are people like us who may live alone, study at University, work full-time, have families or travel overseas. Everyone is different!

Sighted Guide:

If it is your job to guide the person wearing a blindfold, you are responsible for safely moving with them around the environment, anticipating hazards (eg: stairs or head-height obstacles) and perhaps providing them with descriptive information about what’s around them. Allow the blindfolded person to stand beside you and hold your arm just above the elbow. Do not push, pull or hold on to them. Don’t play guessing games (eg: “Guess who this is?!!”). Work as a team and ask what sort of descriptive information they may require.

Blindfold experience:

Some people find wearing a blindfold confronting and scary. In reality, it is very rare for someone to lose all their vision so suddenly. Many people lose vision gradually and often retain a small amount of useful vision: patches of vision that may allow them to read large print or maybe only to see shape or colour. Rather than dwell on how difficult you think it must be when people lose vision, consider the skills that may be learned to compensate for low vision.

  • Listen to the sounds around you: What do you hear? From which direction are sounds coming? How could this information give you clues about where you are and which direction you are travelling?
  • Feel the ground beneath your feet: What type of surface are you walking on? Do you notice when you walk up or down a ramp or on uneven ground? How could this information give you clues about where you are?
  • As you hold the arm of your guide, notice any change in the movement of their body: are they turning left or right? Are they walking in a straight line or weaving around furniture or obstacles?
  • How familiar are you with the area? Do you have a mental picture / map of the area in your mind? Consider how easily you can walk around your own house at night without the lights on. Teaching someone the layout of an area can enable them to move around safely and independently.

When you meet a person who is blind or vision impaired:

  • Don’t assume their level of vision – there are so many types of eye conditions and everyone is different.
  • Don’t assume they use a guide dog or white cane – not everyone needs a mobility aid. Assessment for mobility aids is conducted by professionals called Orientation and Mobility Instructors or Guide Dog Mobility Instructors.
  • Speak normally and maintain eye contact as you communicate, just as you would with anyone else.
  • Introduce yourself when approaching the person and let them know when you are leaving the room so they’re not left talking to an empty room.
  • If you’re not sure what to do, ASK! – “How can I help you?”, “Do you need any assistance?”

Guidelines for Assisting a Person Who is Blind or Vision Impaired

  1. Always introduce yourself. Use the person’s name so that they know you are talking to them.

  2. If they are accompanied by another person, don’t assume that they will provide all assistance needed or that they are acting on behalf of the blind person.

  3. Always let the person know when you have come into or are about to leave the room.

  4. Avoid leaving the person in an open space, direct the person to a seat, or counter, or somewhere more appropriate to wait or talk.

  5. Speak normally. No need to shout or speak slowly – they’ll let you know if they’re hearing impaired as well.

  6. Always ask whether the person wants your help. Avoid jumping in to do things before asking the person first.

  7. Be specific when giving directions. Avoid using terms like “over there”, or pointing. Try to give clear instructions.

  8. Let the person know if there are any changes to the environment, eg; if furniture has been rearranged.

  9. Be yourself! Feel comfortable using words like ‘see’, eg: “see you later”.

  10. Look them in the eye when communicating, as you would with anyone else.

  11. If you’re not sure what to do, ASK! – “How can I help you?”, “Do you need any assistance?”

  12. SIGHTED GUIDE ASSISTANCE • The level of sighted guide assistance should be appropriate to the situation and person. • The person providing sighted guide must plan ahead to anticipate any real or potential risks to safety. • The provision of sighted guide should not be assumed by either party; it should be requested or offered.

• VERBAL ASSISTANCE = the provision of accurate and descriptive information about the environment.

• PHYSICAL ASSISTANCE = the person who is blind / vision impaired may hold the sighted person’s arm, just above the elbow and remains in constant contact. The sighted person should be one step ahead. Walking side-by-side & ‘brushing’ arms may be adequate.

Royal Guide Dogs Tasmania provides specialist professional services to Tasmanians who are blind or vision impaired. For further information, contact: 1800 484 333 (statewide)

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to train a Guide Dog?

It takes nearly two years to train a Guide Dog. Training starts from very soon after the pups are born. At eight weeks, the pups are placed with volunteer foster families, called Puppy Raisers. Our Puppy Raisers have the pups until they are about 18 months old, during which time they do a lot of work to ensure pups are well socialised and well mannered. This is followed by four to six months of intensive training with a Guide Dog Instructor ensuring the dog learns all the skills it needs to become a Guide Dog. It then takes a month or so to train each vision impaired person and their Guide Dog so they can work effectively together as a team to ensure their safety and independence.

Where do Guide Dogs come from in Tasmania?

Royal Guide Dogs Tasmania provides Guide Dog Mobility services for all Tasmanians who are blind or vision impaired. We source puppies from established Guide Dog Breeding colonies in Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes we will supplement our program from quality local breeders. It is important to ensure we have dogs of suitable temperament for Guide Dog work. All training is conducted here in Tasmania by our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors.

Are we allowed to pat Guide Dog puppies?

Put quite simply: No. Whenever the pup has its little blue Puppy Coat on, with its distinctive 'L' plate on the back, we ask that people try to ignore the pup as much as possible and definitely try not to pat it. This can be very difficult, especially if the puppy is in your workplace on a regular basis, however, it is very important. When the pup is in its Puppy Coat, it has to learn that it is on duty and needs to concentrate and behave appropriately. If people are trying to pat the pup, talk to it or, worst of all, trying to feed it, these things can quickly break down the hard work that has gone in to training the puppy. Rest assured, the pup gets lots of opportunities to just relax and romp and play without the Puppy Coat on, but most of the time this is at home. Whilst it is hard to do with a new puppy, the best thing you can do in the early stages is to try hard to ignore the pup and allow the handler to concentrate on trying to instill some manners in a tiny little puppy that is just learning the ropes.

What happens to dogs that are unsuitable as Guide Dogs?

We have an Adoption List for people who wish to adopt a retired Guide Dog or one of our dogs that is more suitable for a career as a pet. If you are interested in adopting a retired dog or offering a home for our career-change dogs, please fill out the online Adoption Form. Unfortunately, however, our Adoption List is currently full and we are not currently accepting new applications. Please check back in December 2010.

Are male or female dogs more suited as Guide Dogs?

We use both male and female dogs on our program to ensure a variety of physical traits and temperament types.

How does a Guide Dog avoid obstacles?

We don't want to give away all our secrets, but. it isn't too hard to teach dogs to avoid obstacles, as most don't really like running into things anyway; however, it takes a lot of hard work to teach dogs to ensure they avoid letting their handler run into things. Dogs are taught to avoid both stationary and moving obstacles. They are also taught to recognise and react appropriately to obstacles above their head, which might hit their handler.

How does a Guide Dog know when to cross the road?

This is one of the most common misperceptions about Guide Dogs. Many people believe that the Guide Dog can see the little green man and know it is time to cross. In fact, it is the Guide Dog's job to get the person safely to the kerb edge. The vision impaired handler has been taught to assess the flow of traffic, using observational skills and their senses (such as hearing). When the handler believes the road is clear or they have the right of way, they will give the command to cross the road. Guide Dog mobility is all about team work.

What is the average working life of a Guide Dog?

Guide Dogs usually begin work with their clients at about two years of age, with a well-earned retirement at approximately ten years of age.

How does a Guide Dog know where its handler wants to go?

A Guide Dog and its vision impaired handler work together as a team. The handler is responsible for providing directions to the dog at all times, whilst the dog concentrates on dealing with issues (such as obstacles, kerbs, traffic) that arise in the immediate environment. The handler must be well orientated to their route to ensure they know the number of streets to be crossed, when to turn left or right, and when they have reached their destination. Meanwhile the Guide Dog will lead them safely and assist locate specific objectives such as doorways and steps. Each Guide Dog will usually remember the route to their handler's various destinations, once they have been there a few times, however, it is still the handler's responsibility to consistently be aware of where they are in relation to where they have come from and where they are heading too. Some Guide Dog handlers have reported that their dog has remembered destinations that they have not travelled to for many months or even years.

Is a Guide Dog always working and does it always have to wear a harness?

Guide Dog puppies are conditioned from a very young age to understand that when they are wearing their special puppy coats or their Guide Dog harness, that they are 'on duty' and are expected to behave accordingly. When out of their puppy coat or harness, the dogs are encouraged to play and relax, just like any other dog. Although there are a few special rules to abide by to ensure our dogs are always well mannered when in public. The working role of our Guide Dogs only takes up a minor percentage of their daily routine, therefore play, relaxation and the odd cuddle or two make up a large portion of their daily activities.

How much does it cost to train a Guide Dog?

Training Guide Dogs is an expensive business. Our puppies are specifically bred to meet the demands of Guide Dog work, in order to ensure they are physically and temperamentally suited to the task. They are then placed with Puppy Raising families to undergo socialisation and initial training in basic good manners. During this time, Royal Guide Dogs Tasmania meets all costs associated with equipment, feeding and supervision for our puppies. In all, it costs in excess of $25,000 to train each of our Guide Dogs.

Where does the money come from to train Guide Dogs?

All of our services are provided free of charge to blind and vision impaired Tasmanians. Sometimes we are able to receive payment for some services from third parties, for example the Department of Veteran's Affairs. We receive minimal support from the state and federal governments, therefore the majority of our income is derived from donations and our own fundraising efforts. Major income sources include our raffle sales, model dog collections, chocolate sales, and public donations. We are also able to supplement our income through corporate sponsorships and sponsorship programs such as Puppy Love.

Role of the Guide Dog Trainer

Guide Dog Trainers are responsible for all aspects of assessment and training required to produce fully trained Guide Dogs. Guide Dog Trainers ensure Guide Dogs are ready for placement, under the supervision of a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, with a vision impaired handler. Guide Dog Trainers are also capable of being deployed in associated fields of Guide Dog training; including breeding programs, puppy development and kennelling.

Guide Dog Assessment and Training

When our puppies are approximately 16 months old, we bring them in for assessment and then, hopefully, the formal component of their training. We say hopefully, for despite all of our best efforts, both from our staff and our dedicated volunteer Puppy Raisers, there is no guarantee that our pups will successfully complete the Guide Dog Training Program. Although assessment occurs throughout all phases of the Puppy Raising and Guide Dog Training Programs, it is important that we develop a solid understanding of each pup’s strengths, weaknesses and learning styles immediately upon entering the formal training phase. We therefore conduct a short, but intensive period of assessment designed to ensure the pup is both mature enough and suitable to enter formal training. Should the pup meet the exacting standards required during assessment, they progress to the formal training component. Should the pup not make the grade, for whatever reason, they are offered up for adoption. Once a puppy has successfully completed its assessment, it can then move into formal training with one of our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors. Here they will spend up to six months learning the intricacies of their trade. Each Guide Dog must learn to move smoothly and safely through the environment, taking care to ensure they do not allow their handler to contact obstacles, trip over kerbs or encounter a myriad of other hazards; whilst also ensuring they successfully locate destinations, indicate stairs, escalators and lifts, and successfully locate and negotiate road crossings. It is a big responsibility and our Guide Dogs are thoroughly trained to ensure they are up to the standards as set forth by the International Guide Dog Federation. Once they have successfully completed their training, they are made available for matching with a blind or vision impaired person.

Guide Dog Breeding

Breeding Guide Dog puppies is a specialty all of its own. Many Guide Dog organisations around the world have large Breeding Programs with specialist staff overseeing breeding colonies and striving to produce the best possible puppies to become successful Guide Dogs. Some international schools even have veterinarians and geneticists on staff to assist in making the best possible breeding decisions. Here in Tasmania, we are simply too small to invest such large amounts of money in breeding just the right puppies to maximise our success. Whilst some other states do have Breeding Programs to produce the puppies they require, it is not feasible for Guide Dogs Tasmania to breed our own puppies. But we still want the best possible puppies, so how can we ensure access to purpose-bred, high quality puppies bred within a specialist Guide Dog Breeding Colony? It’s actually very easy. We source all of our puppies from other Guide Dog schools, in Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand. By purchasing puppies from established guide dog breeding colonies, we know we are getting the best possible pups, which have been specifically bred for guide dog work. It is certainly more expensive than purchasing your average pet Labrador, but it is a sound investment in the future of our Guide Dog Program. Our perfect little puppies arrive at the tender age of eight weeks, at which time they begin in earnest, their journey on to become Guide Dogs. The next step in their journey is the Puppy Raising phase.

Guide Dog Matching

In order for a Guide Dog to perform at its optimum level, it is important that the Guide Dog and their handler work together as a team. As with any team, if the members work together well, they can achieve things they may have only dreamed about as individuals. This is very much the case with Guide Dogs. In order for each Guide Dog to reach its potential, we must carefully select where each dog is placed. In order for each Guide Dog Handler to maximise their independent mobility, we must ensure we provide a Guide Dog that complements their lifestyle, their aspirations and their personality. It only takes a second to think of your own lifestyle and how much it differs from say… your grandparents, or your grandchildren, or your neighbours, or even your work colleagues. When you consider the different things you do in your life and the things that are important to you, you can readily see why a Guide Dog that is good for you, may not be so suitable for many of the people you know. Some people walk fast and some people walk slow. Some people are tall and some are short. Some lead a leisurely, relaxed life, whilst others are on the go from dawn til dusk and beyond. The dog that is right for me may not necessarily be right for you. Matching each person with the right Guide Dog is a complex art. We spend a lot of time getting to know our dogs and learning as much as we can about the people they work with. This way, we believe we can do our best to provide a dog that complements and supports the individual goals of each person. Once a person has been matched with their Guide Dog, that is when the challenge really begins. Continue onto Guide Dog Client Services story to learn more about what happens when a blind or vision impaired Tasmanian receives their four legged companion.

Guide Dog Client Services

Once our Guide Dog has been trained and matched, it is time to start training with their new partner. For some people this is the time when they get their first Guide Dog. It is exciting, scary, emotional, tiring, daunting… did we mention exciting? For others, it is a time of great anticipation, mixed with great sadness, a little bit of guilt and hope for a new beginning. For those who have worked with a Guide Dog previously, they are aware of the challenges that lay ahead, but realise this is a challenge they cannot face with a trusted companion who has been by their side for many years. It is perhaps time for the retirement of their elderly Guide Dog and time to start training with a young Guide Dog, eager for the challenge. We provide extensive training for blind and vision impaired Tasmanians, from the comfort of their own home. Training programs can last for between four and eight weeks for people receiving their first Guide Dog and often substantially less time for people who are returning after the retirement of their previous working Guide Dog. Training is intensive and can cover a broad range of skills, depending on the experience of each person. Some people have never owned a pet dog prior to receiving a Guide Dog, therefore they need learn not only how to work with their Guide Dog, but also how to interact, play and clean up after it as well. There can be a lot to learn and it can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. For others, it is like riding a bike. They may be a little rusty and might have picked up a few bad habits along the way, but really all they need is a bit of time and support to adjust to working with their new Guide Dog before they are back into the swing of things and going about just getting on with life. If you would like to find out more about how our Services can help you or someone you love, just click here. If you know someone who has recently received a Guide Dog, here are some helpful hints so you can assist them to settle in as quickly and easily as possible.